Generally, people experience history in pretty dry ways. They read facts, figures, and dusty old books that tediously outline highly specific and frankly boring particulars.
Particulars are important. Facts and details matter. But besides a few outliers, the places of history still exist. Indeed, we live both figuratively and literally in the past. Our world is their world. This is true for contemporary history. Consider, for instance, that President Lincoln would recognize almost all of the streets of Washington, D.C. But it’s also true for ancient history, and indeed a shocking number of modern highways in the United States run along Native American trade routes.
What’s more, geography does not change all that quickly, and retracing the steps of a historical figure gives us insights that we missing from reading about a historical event. It’s easy for instance, to underestimate how much the high ground matters in a battle, or how audacious it is to think about bringing elephants over the Alps like the Carthaginian General Hannibal once did.
This project has some goals. First, I want to simply share some historical retracing routes that I’ve done over the years so others can learn from them and perhaps even retrace these historical steps themselves. I also want to share some of my thoughts on historical events and what they say about our species — and our future.
At least for me, retracing history has a few aspects. First, you have to actually retrace the steps of someone not just spend time in that place. The point is to engage the historical details of a moment. to engage the source material and understand that moment.
So, a visit to Rome would not count. Following Caesar’s route after crossing the Rubicon would count. Visiting the Anne Frank Museum would not count. Walking her route from her house before the Nazi invasion to her “hiding place” would count.
Second, there needs to be some sort of adventure involved. By adventure, I mean an exploit of some sort. For me, this usually means running, biking, or camping near the spot. But it also might be that the act itself is illicit in some way.
This aspect is important for a few reasons. In most cases, it helps to recreate the experience, highlighting that people experienced their event as an event, an incident, something that made them feel the pulse of adrenaline. You should too.
Over the past ten years, I’ve done a few events that I’ve outlined here. On this site, I’ll blog about other historical events and adventures.